(Written by Alex McRae and originally published in the Newnan Times-Herald on April 24, 2005.)
Has the nightmare returned?
More than two decades ago, Cowetans quaked in fear, praying they wouldn't be visited by a hairy, night-walking monster whose true identity still remains a mystery.
If a recent tip to The Times-Herald is correct, more sleepless nights could be on the way.
Move over, Belt Road Booger, here comes the Happy Valley Horror. Maybe.
The first known sighting of the creature was reported in a letter to The Times-Herald. In a printed scrawl, the writer qualified himself as an avid hunter and outdoorsman, very familiar with local wildlife. Then he described "an enormous... very hairy" beast walking upright in a field on Happy Valley Circle.
The letter said, "It scared me to death!" and concluded by asking if anyone else had reported seeing something resembling..."a Bigfoot."
The good news is, no other sightings have been reported. At least not to Eddie Ball, director of the Coweta County Emergency Management Agency (EMA), which operates the local 911 system."
"We haven't heard a thing about a Bigfoot," said Ball. "And I'm glad, because that last thing sure did stir up a fuss."
The "last thing" referred to by Ball is the Belt Road Booger, which Ball is actually credited with naming. Years ago, lawmen and emergency personnel were flooded with reports of a large, hairy, two-legged critter roaming the Belt Road area on Newnan's west side, scaring folks half to death.
A reporter was on hand when Ball visited a woman who claimed to have sighted the beast. Ball was asked if he thought there was any substance to the stories.
"I don't know," Ball replied, "but I sure am tired of chasing boogers up and down Belt Road.'
The next day's Times-Herald headline screamed, "Belt Road Booger." And a legend was born.
Ball believes the original booger was a man, now deceased, who was very large and a bit strange and shy about being seen walking down the local roads. When cars approached he would duck into a ditch, then reappear and continue his trek to nowhere. He wore a water faucet handle around his neck, Ball reported, and was totally harmless, if a bit eccentric.
"He would have provoked a few questions," Ball said. "No doubt about it."
But not all locals share Ball's belief. One woman claiming to have had a Belt Road Booger encounter reported that the beast had actually come up onto her porch and eaten her flowers right out of the clay pots. Other rumors regarding the Booger's identity are still tossed about in local barber shops, beauty parlors and liquor stores.
But rumors regarding Bigfoot in Georgia are not as rare as one might think. Research shows that not only have Bigfoot-type creatures been spotted in Georgia over the years, some have been spotted less 50 miles from the Coweta County Courthouse.
A 2003 story in the Athens (GA) Banner-Herald recounts the story of Steve Hyde, of Griffin, Ga., whose hobby was searching for Bigfoot in central and south Georgia. In 1999, the story says, after locals reported barn damage and disappearing animals, Hyde and a friend, former law enforcement officer James Akin, began a search of Elkins Creek, which flows into the Flint River in Pike County south of Griffin.
They were astonished to find a huge footprint measuring 17.5 inches in length, according to the Banner-Herald story. They were more astonished when a plaster cast of the print was sent off to be tested.
The cast was examined by Dr. Jeff Meldrum, of the Department of Biological Science at Idaho State University in Pocatello, who has studied literally hundreds of Bigfoot sightings over the years. The print, according to the news report, was also examined by J.H. Chilcutt, identified as a fingerprint examiner with the Conroe, Texas, police department.
Chilcutt, like Meldrum, had examined other suspected Bigfoot artifacts in an attempt to determine their origin, according to the story. The report from Chilcutt to Meldrum ended by saying, "The Elkins Creek Cast is that of an unknown primate."
The story also reported two other Georgia sightings, one near Augusta in 1979 and another from a retired Clarke County sheriff's deputy who claimed to have seen a Bigfoot-like critter just outside Athens while investigating a nuisance call.
Although law enforcement officials were involved with both the Elkins Creek and Athens incidents, local lawpersons have not yet encountered such a creature, according to Coweta County Sheriff Mike Yeager.
"We haven't heard a thing," said Yeager. "But our office is prepared for anything; and if Bigfoot shows up, we'll deal with it."
Yeager added some of the biggest feet he had ever seen belong to Coweta County Deputy Sheriff John LaChance. Yeager was confident LaChance was not involved in the latest incident.
Most Bigfoot sightings occur near a stream or other body of water. Lake Redwine, located on Happy valley Circle, offers enough water to support a large Bigfoot population; but so far, Lake Redwine residents have not reported seeing large, hairy creatures who were not registered property owners.
A possible indication of an environmental intruder is a recently-noted shortage of armadillos in the area. Armadillos are suspected to be a favorite food of Bigfeet. A Happy Valley Circle resident, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Times-Herald, "I used to dodge armadillos every week just driving home from work. But I haven't seen one since St. Patrick's Day."
In researching this article, e-mails were sent to several groups which gather information on Georgia Bigfoot sightings. The Bigfoot Research Organization website (bfro.net) provides a map showing geographic distribution of Bigfoot sightings in the U.S. Although Washington, Oregon and northern California lead with hundreds of sightings each, 22 Bigfoot sightings were reported in Georgia through the end of 2003.
The Chattahoochee Bigfoot Organization website (chattahoocheebigfoot.org) reports a possible Bigfoot sighting in March 2005, in Harris County, GA, between Coweta and Columbus.
Samuel Rich, of Georgia Bigfoot (georgia bigfoot.com) e-mailed to say that, to his knowledge, this was the first Bigfoot sighting in Coweta. But Rich said he was rechecking old news reports to make sure something hadn't been overlooked.
Coweta residents take heed. Bigfoot experts say that in Georgia, though they might be rare, they might also be there. So take care.
And take some pictures. For some stories, words just aren't enough.